Fiat Ritmo

The Fiat Ritmo was introduced in 1978 at the Turin Motorshow and remained in production until 1988. It was styled by Bertone of Italy and over its lifespan, a total of 1,790,000 units were produced. In Great Britain and North America it was badged as the Fiat Strada. In 1979 SEAT Ritmo production started in Spain and was replaced by a face-lifted version in 1982, the SEAT Ronda.

The underpinnings for the Ritmo were mostly sourced from the 128. Fiat made an monumental step with the Ritmo when the car was completely built by robots, earning the car the advertising tagline, 'Handbuilt by robots.'

Powering the Ritmo was a 1.1 Liter engine developing nearly 60 horsepower. A 1.3 L and 1.5L petrol engine were also available. In 1980, a diesel powerplant was introduced. Other engines used over the lifespan included a 1.0L, 1.6L, and 2.0Liter. Gearboxes included a 4- and 5-speed manual and three-speed automatic.
By Daniel Vaughan | Aug 2012Debuting at the Turin Motor Show in 1978, the Ritmo came from Italian manufacturer Fiat. Styled by Bertone of Italy, it continued in production for 10 years until 1988. A total of 1,790,000 units were produced during its lifespan and was seen by some enthusiasts as the most distinctive smaller family car in Europe. In the UK and North America it was badged as the Fiat Strada. In Spain, SEAT Ritmo production began in 1979 before being replaced by an updated version, the SEAT Ronda in 1982.

The majority of the underpinnings, including the front-wheel drive running gear, for the Ritmo were sourced from the 128, which continued production in some regions until 1984. The Ritmo's power came from the 1.1 L, 1.3 L and 1.5 L petrol engines; which were economical, but the smaller ones were slightly underpowered for the size of the car.
In 1979 the small 1.05 liter four built by Fiat of Brazil was added to the lineup for specific markets, with the same power and torque figures as the ones from the 128-derived 1.1 liter engine. The Ritmo diesel engine was introduced with the 1.714 cc engine in 1980.

For 1981 the Ritmo Super was debuted with a brand new variety of small updates and most importantly, revised engines with 75 PS and 85 PS. The Super was known as the Fiat Superstrada in the United Kingdom. Also this year in May the 105TC, the first sporting Ritmo was introduced. It featured a 1,585 cc Fiat DOHC engine derived from that in the 131 and 132 models producing 105 PS. With the same 14-inch wheels as the Ritmo Super, this model also had new black center hubcaps. Standard on the U.K. and Irish models were the black and silver Cromadora alloy wheels. One could tell the 105TC from the lesser Ritmo model by its front fog lights integrated into the front bumper, integrated front spoiler combined with wheel arch trims, black mesh air intake, lower hatchback rear spoiler and black lower door paint.

Several months later, at Frankfurt, the Ritmo Abarth 125TC was debuted in Europe. This model never sold officially in the U.K. since the position of the exhaust downpipe would have clashed with the Right Hand Drive steering gear. A heavily updated and revised 105TC, the 125TC featured a 1,995 cc DOHC with 125 PS, a new ZF gearbox, ventilated front discs, revised suspension settings and strengthened components. On the exterior, the main difference between the 125TC and the 105TC was the new bulky four-spoke 14-inch alloys that were later found on the Bertone Cabrio models. It also featured a joint 'Fait Abarth' badge on the rear hatch and side badges that featuring an Abarth Scorpion. With a top speed of 120 mph, the 125TC could reach 0-62mph in just 8.7 seconds. After the Fiat buyout in 1971 the Abarth models were the final true Abarth cars to be assembled on a separate Abarth production line.

Earning the advertising tagline 'Handbuilt by robots' the Ritmo was the first car to be nearly entirely constructed by robots. Fiat was already an industry pioneer in automated assembly and chose to make a monumental step with the Ritmo.
Leaky press coverage hinted that the car would be dubbed Fiat 138, a successor to the profitable Fiat 128 but by the time of its announcement Fiat had instead chosen to follow the precedent set by the Fiat Mirafiori of giving the car a public name; Ritmo, instead of a mere three digit number. The internal code for the Ritmo was '138' though. The name 'ritmo' in Italian is generally translated into English as 'rhythm'.

In 1982 the Ritmo received a facelift that include a much more conservative styling with a more conventional re-designed front and rear end. While most models came with twin round headlamps, the base one sold on the continent with the by-now familiar corporate five-bar grille with single round headlamps set in a conventional grille. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom all models of this generation had twin headlamps. On either side of the rear numberplate were now new conventional light clusters. The 1.05 liter 'Brazil' engine wasn't available any longer.

Launched once again, the 105TC now featured updated interior trim, a dashboard similar to that of the previous Ritmo Super, and a upper hatchback spoiler replacing the lower one. 7-spoke alloy wheels replaced the previous Speedline ones in the UK. Though the car remained badged as a Strada, the advertising name was revised to Strada II in the UK. The US version didn't change but it was eventually discontinued at the end of the 1982 model year. This left only sports cars in the US Fiat lineup.

The Abarth 130TC, A hot hatch version was added to the lineup. It was based on the 125TC with a 1,995 cc engine, but by replacing the single Weber carb used in the 125TC with twin Solex/Weber carbs on a side-draught manifold and improved cam profiles it had a performance increase to 130 PS. The 130TC had a top speed of 121 mph and could reach 0-62 mph in just 7.8 seconds. Optional in Europe and standard in the UK the 130TC had a raw hot hatch fitted with Recaro bucket seats, and it was the only 1980s hot hatch to continue using carburetors instead of fuel injection with either twin Solex ADDHE or Weber DCOR40 carbs.

The ignition timing was controlled electronically. Though on the outside it looked a lot like the restyled 105TC with its wheelarch trims and lower door, the 130TC could be told apart by its polished four-spoke alloy wheels, lower hatchback spoiler and aerodynamic Perspex front door wind deflectors. With performance to give contemporary rivals like Ford Escort XR3i, Volkswagen Golf GTi, Vauxhall Astra GTE and MG Maestro a run for their money, the raw powerful twin-cam was joined to a close ratio ZF gearbox. At the beginning of 1984 there was a minor change that included in a shuffling of the roster. All non-sporting Ritmos aside from the 3-door, 4-speed 'L' version now had five-speed gearboxes and five-door bodywork. In Italy the exclusive 85 Super version was dropped in a marketplace where smaller-engined version ranked higher in popularity. New to the lineup was the 1.1 liter 60 CL and 60 Super models.

The Ritmo range received a minor update in 1985, which included new rectangular door handles added to the five-door versions only while the three-door version kept the circular door handles. Other updates included a restyled front and rear bumper and lower plastic panels on the doors, taken from the Regata. The number plate was now housed at low level on the rear bumper and the space between the rear lights was filled with a plastic panel.

A 1,697 cc unit from the Uno 60D replaced the 1,714 cc diesel engine and developed 60 PS. A new five-door 100S fitted with a 1,585 cc DOHC engine replaced the 105TC three-door model. The 130TC Abarth received the same outside changes as the other models along with new wheels and interior trim. A new diesel version was introduced in 1986 with a 1,929 cc intercooled turbodiesel and badged as the Ritmo Turbo DS. Marketed across continental Europe, the 100S and Turbo DS weren't sold in the UK or Ireland, same as any of the fuel injected models.

The final Ritmo was built in 1988 and was replaced by the more conventional Tipo which took its place as Fiats C-Segment car. With a slightly lower power output 75 i.e. and 90 i.e. with catalytic converters made it to some markets.

In 1983 the Regata was a saloon version introduced with limited success outside of Italy. On the mechanical side it was similar to the Ritmo and was available in 1.3, 1.5 and 1.6 and 1.7, 1.9, and 1.9 Turbo diesel models. The following year an estate version, the Regata Weekend was introduced. It came with a folding rear bumper section that created a level loading bay. In 1986, the Regata received a slight update in the bumpers, doors and interior, along with fuel injection being available with some engines, especially on the 1,585 cc '100S i.e.'.

Another version introduced was the Ritmo Cabriolet in 1981, styled and assembled by the Italian design house Bertone. Around the same time as the Ritmo hatchback models, this model was facelifted though instead of the 1982-on 5-bar grille, the Bertone Cabriolet models featured the simple Bertone roundel. Unfortunately it wasn't up to Volkswagen standards in terms of quality or ability though Volkswagen had entrusted the assembly of the Golf Cabriolet to Karmann and Fiat the Ritmo to Bertone.

Until 1988 the Bertone Cabriolet was sold in various European markets in petro-engined form only. There were numerous special editions which included the Chrono and Biano; all-white models.

From the fall of 1978 the Ritmo was sold on the British market as the Strada. It was eventually replaced by the Tipo in June of 1988.

The Fiat Strada was debuted for the 1979 model year in North America to replace the 128. It utilized the same 1.5 DOHC engine as the X1/9 generating 69 hp, and featured a standard 5-speed manual gearbox. Though the inside of the car was incredibly roomy, the Strada failed to convince buyers to forget the reliability issues from earlier models and in 1982 it was withdrawn from North America.

A Spanish version of the Ritmo, the SEAT Ritmo was produced from 1979 until 1982 in Spain near Barcelona. Spanish car maker SEAT began their history as a Fiat licensee, making rebadged clones of Fiat cars until the agreement was dropped in '82. The original SEAT Ritmo received license-built pushrod engines from the old Fiat 124. Once the license expired, SEAT had to change the least possible number of pieces in their model range so Fiat couldn't sue them on patent infringement. The SEAT Ritmo yielded to the updated 'System Porsche' engine SEAT Ronda, which continued in production until '86. SEAT showed the press a black Ronda unit with all the in-house developed parts in a bright yellow paint, before the Volkswagen Group takeover to destroy any doubts about their right to continue assembling the vehicle, and also about the future of the firm SEAT and their factories.

A four-door saloon version of the Ritmo was eventually developed on the same underpinnings, and dubbed the Málaga. The Fiat derived models were quickly killed off following SEAT's takeover by Volkswagen, and the Ronda immediately and quickly followed by the Málaga. The base of the Fiat Ritmo continued in the first generation SEAT Ibiza which was sold from 1985 until 1993. IT was replaced with a Polo based model following the Volkswagen buyout.

Australian Fiat Importer Ateco Automatic was responsible for reviving the Ritmo name by badging the New Fiat Bravo as Fiat Ritmo upon its launch in October 2007. Mazda, Japanese car maker already uses the name Bravo for the B Series pickup truck, so it prevented Fiat from also using the name in Australia. Indication pre-launch was that the Ritmo name was to appear on New Zealand bound cars. This never did occur though and they go by Bravo.

By Jessica Donaldson
Fiat Models

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